According to the Huang, the idea came about in the shower (where else?) when he felt there were just too many products to deal with. “Don’t give me a separate shampoo, face wash, body wash… I just want one thing that will do everything.”
The result is a tongue-in-cheek men's-care range with products such as the Caveman Cleaner, a 3-in-1 product that answers Huang’s wish, and the Full Body Armour lotion with sunscreen and mosquito repellent.
The full range of 19 products, from formulation, to the way the bottles looked and felt, to branding, has taken the team at Merdeka and its partners City Chemo Malaysia more than a year to complete. The two companies are equal partners in the venture.
According to the agency, each product’s design and accompanying copy has been crafted to “encourage men to get back in touch with their other side—their ’inner beast’—and discover an exciting, forgotten dimension of themselves. The ‘rebellious’ side. One that is unafraid to poke a sleeping lion in the eye.”
Even the online shop has an element of macho-driven insanity. Shoppers have the option of letting a slot machine pick out products for them. If that's too scary, they can click a button labeled "Not manly enough?" and head to a more conventional shopping site where they can actually select products.
Merdeka plans to distribute its products through traditional channels, but wanted to be digital-first. Its marketing too is online and via social networks. According to the team, people who have ordered online at the time of the launch in mid-August have already started to receive their products.
But why have three ex-traditional creatives decided to launch their own line of products? They explained in a joint statement that they view themselves as entrepreneurs who happen to run an agency or creative company. “We are brand inventors, but if the opportunity arises we will also help existing businesses reinvent their brands,” they said.
Describing the launch of their own agency as ‘liberating’ (hence the name, ‘Merdeka’ which means ‘freedom’ in Malay), the three believe that Malaysian brands lack a sense of adventure.
“We like to work with brave entrepreneurs and business owners like City Chemo who seek out a unique point of difference for the brands through creativity, and then take a brave decision to really do it instead of just talking about it. There is no other way out of the quagmire of sameness.”